The First of Shadows

The First of Shadows
The Riven Realm Book One
By Deck Matthews


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How do you kill a shadow?

As a raging storm descends on the Blasted Coast, the crippled young rigger, Caleb Rusk, meets a stranger on the road. Little does he know that the encounter will pull him into a conflict that threatens everything he holds dear—and change the course of his life forever.

Meanwhile, in the Capital of Taralius, a string of inexplicable deaths have captured the attention of the Ember Throne. Second Corporal Avendor Tarcoth is tasked with uncovering the truth behind a danger that could threaten the very fabric of the Realm.

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142 pages
Published by echo Enduring Media
Published on January 22, 2019
Author’s webpage
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I purchased this book.

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For anyone new to the blog and my reviews, you would be forgiven for thinking this was Deck Matthews fan page. It’s not, although I am indeed a fan.

About three weeks ago I came across Matthews via his varkaschronicles account on IG. He is by trade a designer and it shows in his posts which are quite eye catching, not to mention somewhat surreal because if I go off his posts alone, he’s reading, or has read, every book in my own library. That’s what first caught my attention. Then I saw an image of his map for the world – or continent – of Varkas (love me a good map!) So, I went to his website. He had a sample of this novella up and I liked it enough that I promptly pre-ordered it, and bought the two short stories he’d already released. I loved them both (and I am not a huge short story fan) hence the flood of ‘omg, I love Deck Matthews’ on this site recently. It’s true though. I do.

This novella marks the beginning of Matthews ‘Riven Realm’ series (I am unsure at this point how many books are planned, I hope it’s a few because I don’t want to stop reading) and gives us more depth to world of Varkas that he had started to reveal in his short stories. In ‘The First of Shadows’ we meet some great characters that I am very keen to get to know more about. We have the mysterious drifter whose opening scene so captivated me, the crippled Caleb Rusk – my favourite, I can’t wait to see how he grows! – the corporal Avendor, the sage Tiberius, the half-fey woman, Palawen and the Tanner, a veteran of the most recent Frost War.

I quickly came to love all these characters and Matthews has a great sense of pacing. He builds a chapter up, and then cuts you off to start a new one! He’s definitely got that whole ‘just one more chapter’ thing down pat. In fact, if I had started reading this at night, rather than at 11am in the morning, I think I would have been very late to bed!

And teasers. He’s great at teasing you with an idea, with some information that hints but doesn’t fully explain – yet – so you keep going, not just to find the answer but cause it’s a great story.

Matthews is all about the tension. And this only a freaking novella!

But we also have to talk about his endings. I think Matthews does endings very well. I loved the ending of ‘The Melding Thief’, and the ending of ‘The First of Shadows’ – o.m.g GIVE ME THE NEXT BOOK NOW! It is again one of those tantalising snippets that sets up the next book and has you hanging out for more.

If this is what his novellas are like, I cannot wait for him to start writing a Jordan-esque sized Varkas series (or at least ‘full-sized’), because this, THIS, is the type of epic fantasy and writing I live for. A world that is entirely its own. Varkas is a completely different world to earth and while aesthetically you can assign some imagery to a medieval Europe, the culture is clearly different. Honestly, think The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, The Stormlight Archives, even The Forgotten Realms in scope. All the (to me) great fantasy authors do what Matthews has begun to do here.

If you are a fan of Jordan, Sanderson, Brett, Weeks or Martin, then take my advice and get in on the ground floor of Deck Matthews career. I am sure it’s going to be a great ride!

In the Tower of the Witching Tree

In the Tower of the Witching Tree
Varkas Chronicles – Short tales Book 1
By Deck Matthews

Shade is a master of the confidence game.

But when her latest play falls apart, forcing her to flee from the local guards, Shade finds herself climbing through a window at the top of a mysterious tower. What she finds waiting for her will draw into an entirely different sort of game—and force her to confront the pain and loss of her own past.

Published by the author
Published on September 2, 2018
Author’s webpage
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I purchased this book.
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I came across Deck Matthew’s via Instagram on his account @varkaschronicles. He has a great account there, with loads of artistic pics of books – most of which I’ve read and loved, and sketches of characters from his own work as well as maps!

I was intrigued, and promptly stalked followed.

Then he put up a sample of a forthcoming novella on his website. I read it. I was hooked. Pre-order done, I decided I would also give his two short stories ago and today I read the first.

I don’t normally read short stories, I just don’t get them. I want something I can sink my teeth into and stay with it for a week or so. That I actually bought two of them, from an author I had never read before, was saying something.

I loved ‘In the Tower of the Witching Tree’. It is a quick read, but full of life and vivid world building. Combination adventure story/cautionary tale, it follows the thief, Shade, as she enters what she thinks is an ordinary tower, looking for a place to hide from the constables who are chasing her.

I really can’t tell you more about it without giving things away, but Matthews is building a world I really want to find out more about. And hopefully see Shade in some future tales (or novels perhaps?).

If you enjoy works by Sanderson, Abercrombie, Brooks or Salvatore then Deck Matthews is definitely a writer to watch (and read!).

Revenant Winds by Mitchell Hogan

Revenant Winds
The Tainted Cabal Book One
By Mitchell Hogan

As a secret cabal schemes to awaken an evil thought defeated millennia ago, the lives of three unlikely heroes are fated to converge:

Aldric, a veteran priest and sorcerer, who seeks acceptance from the church that shuns him. On the brink of their approval, he receives a mission that brings him face to face with a long-buried evil.

Niklaus, master swordsman, and slave to his goddess, who plots to split the veil between life and death and ascend to become her equal.

Kurio, the runaway daughter of a noble family, now turned to thievery, who stumbles across a disturbing secret that binds her future to infernal designs.

Drawn toward a horrifying endgame by an unknown force, Aldric, Niklaus, and Kurio find themselves in a battle not only for their lives, but for the beliefs that have come to define them.

A wrong decision, an overreaching ambition, or the failure of an already tormented faith, is all it will take to plunge mankind into an eternal dark.

531 pages
Published by the author
Published on September 5th, 2017
Author’s webpage
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I purchased this book.
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This review should have gone up aaaaaaaaaages ago. I have no idea how I got so side-tracked, other than to say I need to get into a better habit of posting on this blog!

I loved this book. It is a great start to a new epic fantasy series by Aussie Mitchell Hogan.

Told from three points of view I loved each character equally, and just when I thought Hogan was about to take a particular plot point too far, or fall into overkill, he changed gears and smashed through the sound barrier, ramping up the tension and throwing some hair-raising twists and turns into the plot.

The world building was fascinating – I want to know much more about the lore of this setting – but it was Hogan’s execution of the story and the vibrancy of characters that had me turning the pages and kept me wanting more.

I have a book hangover. I need the next one now.

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Red Sister
Book of the Ancestor 1
By Mark Lawrence

At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.

But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.

Stolen from the shadow of the noose, Nona is sought by powerful enemies, and for good reason. Despite the security and isolation of the convent her secret and violent past will find her out. Beneath a dying sun that shines upon a crumbling empire, Nona Grey must come to terms with her demons and learn to become a deadly assassin if she is to survive…

512 pages
Published by HarperCollins Publishers
Published on March 27, 2017
Author’s webpage
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I purchased this book.

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I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to reading this one. But omg – it was so good!

I have been a fan (of most) of Lawrence’s work since ‘Prince of Thorns‘ came out. And while this is very different, his ability to grip your attention, ring your heart with feels AND make it pound with excitement has not changed at all.

I also love the way he build magic systems. From my limited understanding it seems he plays with quantum theory and and eastern philosophy and it rocks.

I made the mistake of not having the second book ready to go when I finished this one so be you don’t do the same. You will want book 2 as soon as you finish this one.

And yes, I have ordered book 2!

Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton

Salvation
The Salvation Sequence 1
By Peter F. Hamilton

Know your enemy – or be defeated

AD 2204
An alien shipwreck is discovered on a planet at the very limits of human expansion – so Security Director Feriton Kayne selects a team to investigate. The ship’s sinister cargo not only raises bewildering questions, but could also foreshadow humanity’s extinction. It will be up to the team to bring back answers, and the consequences of this voyage will change everything.

Back on Earth, we can now make deserts bloom and extend lifespans indefinitely, so humanity seems invulnerable. We therefore welcomed the Olyix to Earth when they contacted us. They needed fuel for their pilgrimage across the galaxy – and in exchange they helped us advance our technology. But were the Olyix a blessing or a curse?

THE FAR FUTURE
Many lightyears from Earth, Dellian and his clan of genetically-engineered soldiers are raised with one goal. They must confront and destroy their ancient adversary. The enemy caused mankind to flee across the galaxy and they hunt us still. If they aren’t stopped, we will be wiped out – and we’re running out of time.

544 pages
Published by Pan Macmillan
Published on September 11, 2018
Author’s webpage
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This book was sent by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
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Loved it!

When I first read that Hamilton was not returning to the Commonwealth universe in this, his new novel, I was really disappointed. I adore the Commonwealth and the stories he has written within it.

But this new novel is just brilliant.

It truly showcases what a creative genius, Hamilton is. From his ability to pull trends and social movements from our world today and to extrapolate them into what they could become, to his ability to twist plots and give his readers a story that is basically akin to a messed up Rubik’s cube – which we then have the sheer joy of watching a master put back together before our eyes, to his understanding of science and its principles and just what could be on our horizon (I think R&D departments of Virgin Space, Tesla, Google, Apple and Samsung etc, need to be going through his work with a fine tooth comb for ideas because his novels are bursting with them).

This book has action, murder, mystery, space, science, far-future tech, human interest and detective work all rolled into one. It is fast paced, insightful and thrilling. An absolute joy to read. And I cannot wait for book two.  Or for the audiobook to be released because I will be reading/listening to it again then!

You can buy it here

An Echo of Things to Come

An Echo of Things to Come
The Licanius Trilogy Book Two
By James Islington

As shadows rise, a darkness awakes

An amnesty has been declared for all Augurs – finally allowing them to emerge from hiding and openly oppose the dark forces massing against Andarra. 

However, as Davian and his new allies hurry north towards the ever-weakening Boundary, fresh horrors along their path suggest that their reprieve may have come far too late.

Meanwhile, Caeden continues to wrestle with the impossibly heavy burdens of his past. Yet as more and more of his memories return, he begins to realise that the motivations of the two sides in this ancient war may not be as clear-cut as they first seemed . . .

608 pages
Published by Oribt
Published on January 30, 2018
Author’s webpage
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I purchased this book.
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An Echo of Things to Come is a big book. Huge. Which is just my cup of tea. Second book in the Licanius Trilogy there were actually times that I felt I was reading the final book because SO MUCH HAPPENS; and Islington moves you at an ever increasing pace towards what feels like a conclusion – and it is, of a sort, but it is more the ‘end of act two’ and set up for act three.

Islington does a great job of spreading his wings in this novel and clearly puts into play the lessons learned while writing the first book. The story closely follows the main characters of book one, Davien, Wirr, Asha and Caedan, – and if you have not read that you may be a little lost as there is no hand-holding or rehashing of what’s gone before here. Islington does a masterful job of keeping the readers interest across all four threads with the stories balancing out in a complex dance of wave-like tension, one thread rising while another lowers.

And while each of these stories has interest and merit, the standout – for me – is Caedan’s story.

Caedan’s journey to regain his lost memories is simply marvelous. Islington uses flashbacks to allow Caedan and the reader to live the revelations rather than just reciting them to us dryly. It is a great use of the flashback device (one that often annoys me, but not here). In fact is almost ‘time travel’, given we are looking back over millennia and it deepens the readers understanding of what went before and what is happening now in terms of the current timeline plot.

Davien’s, Wirr’s and Asha’s journeys are no less interesting and serve to anchor the story in the ‘now’. Through their POV’s we see the plans made by Caedan’s alter-ego of the past begin to come to fruition and see firsthand just how the foretelling gift of the Augurs moves players across the story like chess pieces.

The pace really starts to crank up in the final third of the book, all the threads rushing towards their  climax – as I said earlier, it often felt as though we were coming to the end of the final book such was the sense of progression in the story. All in all, Islington has written a stellar novel of epic fantasy that ticks many of the boxes for me. I can only see him getting better as he continues his journey as a writer and I am keen to see where he goes next.

An Echo of Things to Come suffers from none of the middle book syndrome that so many other second volumes in a trilogy do. It is a fast paced tale of magic, mysterious, politics, back stabbing and prophecy as we explore the idea of closely our view of identity is molded by our memories. And while Islington does use many familiar tropes he is also using a very cool device with Caedan (no, not the flashbacks) that I do not believe has been widely used in epic fantasy before and offers a very really feeling of ‘something new’. If you are a fan of Robert Jordan or Brandon Sanderson you will surely love this.

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The Game Bird

The Game Bird
By Aidan R Walsh

An evil is growing. The Realm is under attack. A leviathan has risen from the depths and is destroying the fleets that feed Stormhaven.

Stuck ashore and drowning in debt, Captain James Faulkner resolves to hunt the sea monster and claim the enormous bounty on the beast.

Sophia Blake’s life looks effortless. But she carries a secret, an occult curse that is capable of destroying both her and her nation. Sophia knows her time is running out.

The Tallowman is a slowly decaying melding of demon and man. This monstrous assassin is desperate to capture Sophia and will let nothing stand between it and its prey.

As these hunts build to their shattering conclusion, Faulkner and Sophia will be thrown together and forced to confront malevolent forces beyond their imagining. The Game Bird is a swashbuckling black powder fantasy, wrapped around a spine of darkness.

404 pages
Published by Aidan R Walsh
Published on April 3, 2018
I purchased this book.
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In his debut novel The Game Bird, Aussie author Aidan R Walsh dispenses with the more traditional medieval type setting of most fantasy novels and sets his tale upon the bones of a Regency England stage. I was – at first – concerned this setting would overwhelm the understanding that the book is not, in fact, set on earth. It didn’t. With a sure hand belying the fact that this is his first novel, Walsh allows the story and characters to tell his tale in such a way that while there is a feeling of familiarity to the world, it is very much his own creation.

Set in the city of Stormhaven, and the seas that surround it, The Game Bird tells the tale of Captain James Faulkner, a semi-retired war hero down on his luck since the last war ended and the Kingdom put many of its navy personnel on half-pay. Looking for a solution to pay off his enormous debt he decides to try his luck in taking out a monstrous leviathan that is attacking the traffic of the Kingdom’s shipping lanes, hoping to win the bounty placed on its head to ease his woes. Joining him on this adventure is Sophia Blake, a young lady of standing with a secret she and her father are desperate to keep from society, and the world at large. Unbeknownst to Sophia – or her father – the secret of her supernatural powers is already known by the Tallowman, the nefarious agent of an ancient evil, thought by many to be just a legend. His goal is to capture Sophia and her power for his master, at any cost.

The Game Bird is a swashbuckling, stand-alone tale of high adventure and romance, set in a beautifully realised world. Walsh’s writing is rich in history and lore, which he uses to masterfully colour his world – never once letting the details overwhelm the story and to present us with vivid characters that leap off the page and into your heart. It is a rip-roaring romp blending the sensibilities of Georgette Heyer, Patrick O’Brian and George R R Martin in a page turning read that is sure to find a wide audience.

On a personal note I am disheartened that a book this good was unable to find a home with a traditional publisher. We are exceedingly lucky that Walsh did not give up his quest to bring his writing to the world and that the facilities of self-publishing are quiet comprehensive these days. I highly recommend this book, indeed such are his writing chops that I am sure I would recommend any book by Walsh. I cannot wait for further adventures with these characters – or any characters he cares to introduce – and stories set in this world.

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